Anna Keefer of St. Michael-Albertville ran away from the competition in her heat of the girls 100 meter sprints at the regional AAU track and field meet at Park Center High School track Saturday, July 2, 2016,in Brooklyn Park, MN.] (DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUN
Both Anna Keefer and her mother, Tiffini, jumped at the opportunity.
A star track athlete at St. Michael-Albertville, Anna Keefer decided to make the trek to Brooklyn Center for Amateur Athletic Union track this summer. It paid off with victories in the 100- and 200-meter runs and the long jump to reach the AAU Junior Olympic Games on July 29-Aug. 5.
“It’s a good way to keep improving, getting stronger,” Anna Keefer said. “There’s a lot of good coaches here.”
That staff at AAU club Track Minnesota Elite includes Tiffini Schuebel-Keefer, who came aboard as the jumps coach at the last minute. Club head coach Melvin Anderson needed a jumps coach since Kimberly Golding, also a star sprinter/jumper for the Gophers, went to try out for the Jamaican Olympic team.
“I did some practices, kind of eased into the program and here I am,” said Schuebel-Keefer, who also coaches at St. Michael-Albertville.
TME’s coaching staff includes former Division 1 athletes with experience that aids the recent national success of Minnesota athletes. TME boasts an average of 15 top-eight finishes at nationals each summer, according to Anderson.
Such success spills over into the high school season.
“People are starting to see these times over the last five years, all the state records and meet times are just coming down dramatically,” Anderson said.
TME and Wayzata alumna Ruby Stauber set a record in the 800 in the 2015 high school state meet. She took bronze in the 800 at the USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor championships last month.
“We enhanced her trajectory,” Anderson said.
Summer track enhancing Minnesota’s best goes beyond TME. Park Flyers, based in St. Louis Park, includes Class 2A 100 meter champion and state record holder Evan McClellon. The recent Armstrong athlete competed in Mankato this weekend for a spot in USATF’s Junior Olympics on July 25-31.
Some athletes pursue both AAU and USATF. North St. Paul’s Jake Kubiatowicz, the Class 2A discus champion, swept the discus and shot put at the AAU regional.
Kubiatowicz’s throw of 193 feet, 6 inches in AAU put him in the top 25 nationally. He uses a specialized disc with the weight nearer to the rim as opposed to the center for beginners.
“It helps give it a better spin,” Kubiatowicz said. “If you throw it correctly, it should actually go farther.”
Kubiatowicz competes without a club team but keeps up a routine of throwing, attending a track camp at Hamline University and weightlifting. He also practices with the Polars football team.
Anderson said other sports often pull athletes from summer track. Kubiatowicz and Alex Spillum of Chanhassen are exceptions.
“I’m a busy guy this summer, but I know track and football goes hand in hand,” Spillum said.
Spillum makes a one-hour drive to TME practices. That’s in addition to football practices, camps and work at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater.
“The training is good help,” Spillum said of TME. “I’m getting stronger in the legs.”
Recent Chanhassen sprinting star Jedah Caldwell encouraged Spillum to give AAU track a try. Caldwell, a Kansas University recruit, took second in the 200 and as a member of a 4x100 relay last summer at AAU nationals.
“I actually asked Jedah to sign my sprinting spikes, so she did,” Spillum said.
Spillum warrants autograph requests for track, too. He will compete at AAU nationals in long jump and high jump.
While Spillum, Kubiatowicz and Keefer await their national debuts, other Minnesota athletes will simply make their annual trip. The family of Eagan girls’ hurdler Natalie Windels makes it a vacation.
“We’re all competing, so we all go and cheer each other on,” Natalie Windels said.
She and her three younger sisters reached nationals each of the past three years. They compete for the REAL Track and Field club, where their mother, Kathy, serves as an administrator.
“Our particular track club is kind of known as the hurdling club,” Kathy Windels said. “We have a lot of really good hurdlers.”
That includes Class 2A 300 hurdles champion Evan El-Halawani from Lakeville North and Gophers recruit Clayton Johnson of Hastings, who won the 300 in 2015. REAL, which stands for Rosemount-Eagan-Apple Valley-Lakeville, boasts 14 All-American finishers in the top eight nationally during the past five years.
Natalie Windels, who competes in events such as the heptathlon in the summer, hopes to add to that in USATF. She took fourth in the AAU heptathlon last year.
“It’s really fun,” Windels said. “I don’t usually do shot put [or] javelin in high school.”
TME likewise has returning All-Americans. T’Nia Riley from Minneapolis North was on a 4x100 relay that placed sixth last year. The Class 1A 100 and 200 champion will race in the 200 and the 4x400 at AAU nationals.
“I think that we can win it if we try our hardest,” Riley said of her relay team.
National success draws Minnesota’s elite, but the exposure for college track scholarships amplifies the interest. Anderson said the later really drives TME’s mission.
“We only do this for one reason,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to help kids become successful adults.”